Style Versus Substance

In May this year, Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic Corporation created space travel history by achieving the first “feathered” re-entry of its experimental craft, SpaceShipTwo. Oversize stabilizers mounted on the wingtips rotated upwards by 65°, giving the craft the geometry of a badminton shuttlecock and reducing its speed naturally. At a height of around 30,000 feet, the stabilizers rotated back to their normal configuration and the spacecraft landed normally on a runway at California’s Mojave Spaceport. It really is an engineering marvel, and I’ve included a clip of it here:

According to the press releases, the combination of high drag and low weight keeps the craft’s skin temperature low, rendering unneccessary any additional heat shields or tiling, the partial loss of which led to the 2003 Space Shuttle Columbia disaster. It not only signalled a revolution in aerospace engineering, but a triumph of private enterprise over government bureacracy, of the genius of one man over a welter of committees and sub-committees. Sir Richard was all over the media in the days following, basking in his company’s glory at every available opportunity.

The man who actually designed and built both SpaceShipTwo and its mother ship, White Knight Two, was less to be seen in the spotlight. Burt Rutan, founder and CEO of aerospace engineering firm Scaled Composites, is about the greatest possible contrast one could imagine to his flamboyant backer. Unobtrusive but driven, Rutan, who studied aeronautical engineering at California Polytechnic before joining the United States Air Force as a flight test engineer, has over the last 45 years produced a string of innovative and sometimes counter-intuitive aircraft designs, including VariEze, the first light plane to employ winglets, and the Rutan Voyager which, in December 1986, piloted by his brother Dick, became the first aircraft to circumnavigate the earth without stopping or refuelling. In 2004, he claimed the $US10 million Ansari X Prize when Scaled Composites, with their revolutionary SpaceShipOne, became the first non-government agency to launch a single manned craft into space twice within a two-week period. Truly, a self-made man.

Branson, by contrast, while he can also claim to be self-made, appears instead to have fashioned a career out of managing the talents of others. Born into privilege, the son of a barrister and grandson of a High Court Justice and Privy Councillor, he dropped out of high school at 16 and began selling records out of the boot of his car. These really were “bootleg” records, having been purchased on the European continent and smuggled into Britain, thus avoiding paying import duties. When he was eventually caught and indicted, the out-of-court settlement with UK Customs and Excise was of a size that necessitated his parents re-mortgaging the Branson family home. Going “straight” thereafter, he opened a chain of bricks-and-mortar record stores under the name Virgin, backing several artists, most notably Mike Oldfield (who at Branson’s studio recorded his magnum opus Tubular Bells), and later the Sex Pistols (whom no mainstream record company at the time would touch).

Branson’s Virgin empire spread in the 1980s and 90s, branching out into travel, television production, condom distribution, computer games, radio, cosmetics, healthcare, railways, airlines, credit cards, film production, biofuels and many others. In the process he has become a billionaire, and is estimated to be the 5th richest person in Great Britain and 254th in the world according to Forbes Magazine’s Rich List.

All this success has come apparently, due to Branson’s entrepreneurial ability, self-confidence, and his “gift of the gab”, rather than any specific ability in making music, producing television, fabricating latex devices, running an airline, and so on. These rôles he invariably delegates to others. It raises an interesting question, one which was most eloquently put the other day by Tayles on the JD blog: the contrast between doers and talkers. Read Tayles’ comment and ask yourself, to which group does Sir Richard Branson belong? The classical free-market capitalist will reply without hesitation, that entrepreneurial skills are essential to open up opportunity for those doers to actually go ahead and do, that is create wealth. The relationship between the entrepreneur, investor and banker provides liquidity, without which the likes of Burt Rutan would never—figuratively, as well as literally—get off the ground. Reading Branson’s story, however, I’m not so sure. It sounds very much to me as if he is in the perpetual habit of riding somebody else’s wave.

Branson's 1998 attempt to circumnavigate the globe in a helium balloon with Steve Fossett and Per Lindstrand ended when the craft crashed into the Pacific Ocean off Hawaii

Unlike many of his fellow mega-rich tycoons who prefer to remain in the background, Branson’s taste for self-promotion appears to have grown with his wealth. Apart from his invariable selection of high-profile business ventures, Branson has used his fortune to indulge in a variety of media stunts involving “big boys’ toys”. His first attempt at setting a new Atlantic Ocean crossing record in his oversized speedboat Virgin Atlantic Challenger I ended when the vessel capsized in heavy seas and necessitated a high-profile and expensive RAF rescue operation. The following year, he commissioned yet another vessel, Virgin Atlantic Challenger II, this time skippered by a professional sailor, with Branson as passenger; the record was broken, and Branson claimed the plaudits. He has also shown a fondness for travelling in helium balloons. With fellow attention-seeker and billionaire, the late Steve Fossett, together with professional pilot Per Lindstrand, he made a number of highly-publicized but unsuccessful attempts to circumnavigate the globe. Other exploits include a crossing of the English Channel by amphibious car, and an unsuccessful attempt to break the eastbound trans-Atlantic sailing record. Branson in this regard reminds me very much of a comic and aptly-named character created by Paul Hogan in his (locally) famous 1970s television show.

Branson conferring with his advisors

Branson’s evident self-belief, combined with an admitted lack of erudition, has led him to embrace the cause of Global Warming with his typical fervour. He has said in interviews that he was won over to this cause having viewed Al Gore’s masterwork of science, An Inconvenient Truth. Branson, whose actual knowledge of the facts closely parallels Gore’s, shares the ex-Vice President’s sense of shamelessness, amounting to the chutzpah of the true religious hypocrite, on the issue of greenhouse gas emissions. Not only is his own personal carbon footprint many times larger than that of the most profligate ordinary citizen, but like Gore, owns, Canute-like, ostentatious waterfront properties, and is in the habit of jetting about the world whilst lecturing on the necessity for the rest of us to cut back on our own carbon emissions. Most infamously in my own country, he appeared in 2008 before a crowd of credulous students at Bond University on Queensland’s Gold Coast, urging other companies to follow Virgin’s lead on sustainability—before brazenly boarding his waiting helicopter—parked on the university sports oval—and choppering off to his next engagement.


When taken to task about the gigantic carbon emissions arising from his latest Virgin Galactic enterprise, he responded by retaining as “environmental consultant”, and at an exorbitant fee, Australia’s Climate Change Commissioner, Tim Flannery: green sheen for hire.

Later that day, he modelled Virgin's latest fashion range, entitled "Global Warming New Clothes".

The contrast with Burt Rutan couldn’t be more stark. Rutan doesn’t tell anyone else how to live their lives. His own life though, is an exemplar to those who would force their environmental beliefs on others. He drives an electric car. His home in the Mojave Desert, which he designed himself, has won several awards, including Pop Science’s 1989 “World’s Most Efficient House”; it is so energy efficient, in fact, that it actually uses less power to cool in summer than it does to heat in winter. Anthony Watts profiled him two years ago on his site. I strongly recommend you read this article on a remarkable man.

Rutan's self-designed earth-walled home, Mojave Desert, California

He is also sceptical of the theory of Anthropogenic Global Warming. The WUWT article includes a link to an excellent presentation of Rutan’s, (PowerPoint or .pdf) in which he explains that his own interest is not as a “climatologist”, but as one who has spent his life analysing engineering flight test data. He runs through the whole panoply of statistical tricks which have been employed by the IPCC, among others, to create the impression of a trend which, as he demonstrates, is completely at odds with that which emerges from the raw, unadulterated dataset. His words should carry a great deal of weight, and are impossible to be lightly or blithely dismissed; after all, in his field, if he wrongly interprets test results, men will almost certainly die. If, on the other hand, climatologists wrongly interpret measurements, they…

They will claim that more work needs to be done, and will invariably receive an extension of their publicly-funded research grant.

How these two ended up working together is a source of amazement; one, a dedicated professional, unwilling to dictate to others, but determined himself to tread lightly upon the earth. The other, a man of gesture and appearance, who wants to shape the world in his own image, but only if he himself is excused the sacrifices required to do so. A man of substance, and a man of style.

History will remember both, but for very different reasons.

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47 Responses to Style Versus Substance

  1. Luton Ian says:

    I’ve never been much of a fan of Branson, nor a customer of his businesses, and I can’t claim to know much about him.

    I have heard some criticize him as a great thief of other people’s ideas, and as a figurehead of some big but not particularly well performing businesses…

    I suppose we should be grateful that he is both dyslexic and that he dropped out of school, thereby removing him from any consideration for the very low calling of a career in public service.

    Burt Rutan is truly impressive.

    His cannard layout for the Vari Eze allowed it to be thrown around the sky without risk of stalling or spinning. It was a homebuild proposition, and despite that, and its general use by low hours private pilots, I don’t think anyone has yet suffered serious injury in one. Well, John Denver… but that’s about it – Oz

    Previous attempts to cure the well known deadly vices of a Bleriot layout (stalls, spins and crossed controls), have from time to time thrown up un-expected deadly faults of their own, for example unrecoverable dives in the original Mignet flea (corrected in the 1920s). The Vari Eze had none of these.

    Rutan could so easily have fallen onto that dirty path which Branson wasn’t qualified for. Thankfully he didn’t.

  2. Luton Ian says:

    If, on the other hand, climatologists wrongly interpret measurements, they…

    They will claim that more work needs to be done, and will invariably receive an extension of their publicly-funded research grant.

    The unstated truth of the state sector;

    They eff up, we get to pay for yet more of them.

  3. Luton Ian says:

    Sorry Oz, I was trying to get your bit to come out as a quote; at least you don’t have to pay more for my mess up 🙂

  4. Dr. Dave says:

    When I took physics in college I messed around with some calculations. I always wondered why it wouldn’t be easier to launch a spacecraft into space from the stratosphere. In this regard I’m glad to see Virgin Galactic moving in this direction. I’ll be impressed when they actually achieve low Earth orbit and then re-enter the atmosphere without burning up.

    Branson, however, is a dork. He believes in AGW because it’s stylish and “hip” (or at least it used to be).

  5. Dr. Dave says:

    In my opinion this is the coolest prop airplane ever developed:×9%2520lg.jpg&imgrefurl=

    It is the Beechcraft Starship, twin prop (in pusher configuration) with forward canards. It was fast, quiet, fuel efficient, easy to fly and highly maneuverable. Only about a dozen were ever produced. It’s one fatal flaw was that it was exorbitantly expensive. Of course it was designed for the business aircraft market. For the same money a business could buy a small jet. A small jet is much faster but gobbles fuel and requires more frequent and more costly maintenance. With Avgas at well over $5/gallon the Starship would today be an attractive option.

    Sorry…but the forward canards made me think of this.

  6. Amanda says:

    Very interesting, Oz. Even swimming in the nude — and having someone prove that he did with a photo — seems to be a statement about ‘I don’t do things as other men do them’. (I can appreciate that wearing heavy swimming trunks down to your knees, as most men on Florida beaches do these days, is not the most pleasant swimming experience.) On the one hand, it’s great that someone can have that sort of energy, and I’d much rather that he direct all that energy and vanity towards commerce than towards becoming a new Napoleon. I mean, thank goodness he has an acceptable outlet. But I can’t imagine what it must be like to be that sort of person, or even to live with that sort of person. I would find it utterly exhausting. All that doing, all that talking, all that attention-seeking.

    Sarah Ferguson once informed the world that she was a ‘doer’. And I’m going to be really impolite here and suggest that perhaps she should have allocated a bit more time to thinking and a little less to ‘doing’ (though thinking, according to Aristotle, is a kind of doing, a kind of action). For instance, I think that both she and Prince Andrew have regretted many times in the past several years that they divorced. (They have reportedly discussed at times getting back together.) But when you are flitting about from one distraction to another, preening yourself on all this glamorous ‘doing’ that you engage in (photo opportunities!), you may not have sufficient time and private time to reflect on what really matters to you. Sarah should have asked herself (and maybe she did, but the answer didn’t come out right) ‘If I leave Andrew, will I ever find someone better? Will I be happier as the divorced mother of my two girls, or will we all be better off in the long run as a united family? Do I really have “irreconcilable differences” with Andrew, or is the rift something that, with patience and a sense of humour, might possibly heal? Do I want to spend the rest of my life as a royal outcast?’ (Sarah was very upset, by the way, that Andrew and the princesses could attend the latest wedding but she could not.) If Sarah had been less of jet-setter doer, and more of a homebody at times, weighing up carefully the good things in her life, she and Andrew might well have had a much happier ending. And it’s likely as well that she would never have come to meet, in unsavoury circumstances, the ‘Fake Sheikh’ of News Of The World!

    Oz: sorry to hear about the family flu and I hope you all feel much better soon!

  7. meltemian says:

    Virgin do a ‘mean’ advert though!!

  8. Dr. Dave says:

    Hi Mel!

    I’ve been thinking about you. How are things in Greece?

  9. Dr. Dave says:

    Not to beat a dead horse, but this little clip about Rutan’s Starship 1 is worth watching. This aircraft is stunningly beautiful but it had a price tag $3.8M even back in the late 80s. It cruises at a little over 350 mph which is damn fast for a turboprop business class aircraft. The bean counters at Raytheon doomed this airplane which 20 years ago was praised as the most innovative development in small commercial aircraft. The sickening part is that they’re now going to grind up and burn perfectly good airframes. They’re probably Democrats…

  10. Stop Global Dumbing Now says:

    Ugh, Branson! About 5 or 6 years ago he was offering a $1,000,000 grant to develop CO2 filters/scrubbers that could be placed on buildings to clean the”dirty” stuff. I wanted to bring him a sapling and claim my money.
    I worked for a professor who was quite the famous neuroscientist. He was fortunate enough to be a graduate student at the time when his professors won a Nobel Prize and got his name on a few prominent papers, which was enough to launch his career. After working with him for a while, I noted that he himself didn’t seem to be very talented. His real talent was a great ability to recognize talent in others, pull them in to his lab, fund them, and self-promote citing a body of work mostly generated by others (which, a least, benefited those he brought in). At least those students and collaborators got credit and their names on papers. I’ve worked for others that outright stole others work.
    That is the category I put these celebrity businessmen in. Branson and Trump etc. are talented at surrounding themselves with talent. The difference between the two is that I have a bit more respect for Trump than Branson.

  11. Kitler says:

    Amanda….Fergie comes from the Sloan ranger set, responsibility to others financial and personal has never a strong point. Which is why she is constantly broke but people are stupid enough to keep on lending her money.

  12. Kitler says:

    I would say that Richard Branson has a high EQ and is narcissistic and Burt Rutan has a high IQ.

  13. fenbeagle says:

    hi Oz
    Very interesting presentation by Rutan. Thank you.

    Amanda, you appear to have discovered the Emperors clothes, and misplaced the emperor.

  14. Amanda says:

    Fen: You’ve heard of ‘all mouth and no trousers’. Well that one is all suit and no head! This is, to make a wicked joke, how many Frenchmen would have looked circa 1793-94.*

    *May the innocent be remembered reverently and with pity.

  15. meltemian says:

    Hi Dr. Dave, (and everyone)
    In a word HOT! We’ve just got our first week of summer temperatures, nudging 40C, so we’re even too lethargic to worry about tomorrow’s emergency meeting of the eurozone finance ministers. Everyone knows Greece hasn’t a hope of paying off its debts but the government is doing a Mr Micawber and waiting for “something to turn up” and the EU is desperately trying to prevent Greece defaulting in case it starts the dominoes falling.
    We are all pleasantly surprised to discover that all those riots in Athens don’t seem to have put the tourists off, we are about 10% up although a lot of that is all-inclusive holidays so it’s not helpling the local restaurants and tavernas much.
    The high temperatures have started up the forest fires on the mainland and we had our first fire on the island yesterday. Fortunately it wasn’t very big and the fire engines and fire-spotting aircraft managed to get it under control without needing the big fire-bombers.
    Meanwhile we keep dipping in the pool between jobs, I’m so glad we decided to put one in even though it seemed an extravagance at the time, running the air-con has become so expensive we try not to use it much! If it stays hot tonight Mr M will probably do his impression of Richard Branson skinny-dipping!

  16. izen says:

    I was expecting better of Rutan.
    A great engineer, but he starts off his piece on AGW with warnings of biased experts and claims he is just going to look at the data.

    Then blows it by including several graphs from Lord Monckton!

    So your problem isn’t what’s actually in the graphs, it’s that Rutan got them from a bug-eyed High Tory who doesn’t really sit in the House of Lords. A sort of converse argumentum ad vericundiam. You’re falling into the same trap as Monckton’s critics down here.

    Actually, FYI the graphs were originally part of a submission by Monckton to the United States Congress House Committee on Energy and Commerce in March 2009. You can download it here from Monckton’s SPPI site (8MB .pdf file). Al Gore was going to testify to this committee as well, but when he found out Monckton was also appearing, he hurriedly withdrew; Big Al doesn’t like debate.

    The presentation has naturally been panned by all the usual suspects; Monckton (along with many eminent scientists) has responded comprehensively, even exhaustively, to the substantive points raised – Oz

  17. Dr. Dave says:

    Hi Mel!

    Wow! That is hot! We’ve been pretty warm here up in the mountains of the Southern Rockies for the last couple of weeks. We’ve had day time highs between 90 and 100 deg F for the last couple of weeks. Fortunately it cools off by about 40 deg F overnight and the relative humidity is only about 10-15%. Monsoon season should kick in any day now. We also had the biggest forest fire in the history of the state just about 40 miles from my house. You could actually see the flames on the mountains in the distance at night and the air smelled like campfire.

    Glad to hear the unrest in Athens didn’t mess with your tourist trade. Hope you and Mr. M stay safe. I think the whole world is watching Greece (and now Italy), Rest assured, as long as Greece remains in the news you shall be in my thoughts.


  18. Ozboy says:

    I posted this over at DT, but I’ll put it up here as well. A clip from Andrew Bolt’s show yesterday on the Ten Network, including an interview with Professor Richard Lindzen. Well worth a look:

  19. Dr. Dave says:


    I see that Ozboy has appropriately responded to your last comment, but I still have a couple questions.

    1. In the aforementioned Monckton graphs what exactly did you find to be factually incorrect?

    2. If Ruton had presented graphs by Mann, Hansen or…Al Gore, would this esteemed aeronautical engineer have earned your respect?

  20. Kitler says:

    Ozboy your entire economy is doomed.

    Wong and Gillard on Carbon Tax:

    Politicians can get away with doing this sort of thing… once – Oz

  21. farmerbraun says:

    Monckton ‘s rebuttal is far more than just an exhaustive response to the criticisms made by Abrahams; it appears to be a legal brief suitable for use in proceedings for defamation against Monckton. Interesting.

  22. farmerbraun says:

    I think that you can take Juliar at her word; she will not be the leader when the tax is implemented in July 2012.

    It’s now an open secret that replacing Juliar is being hammered out in Caucus; for reasons too complex for me to go into here, the favourite, Bill Shorten, can’t get the job until there is a full parliamentary inquiry, or even a Royal Commission, into the Heiner Affair (which I may cover sometime soon). Parliament voted down holding an inquiry last week, by just one vote. KRudd can’t be restored to his old job, for the same reason. Greg Combet is far too shifty, and for reasons which again I’ll discuss later, making him PM will put him in an impossible position. So it’s down to one of the old Labor hands, Simon Crean and Martin Ferguson. Substantial men, and I respect them both, although they are both charisma-free zones. To vary Kitler’s sentiment above, Labor is doomed – Oz

  23. Dr. Dave says:


    I’ve been thinking about your ALP. If I understood you correctly each Rep of the ALP must sign an oath to vote as a bloc along party lines. Why not send all but one of them home and grant the one remaining guy all the ALP’s votes? It would really make no difference. I mean…they can pretend to politic all they want, but at the end of the day they’re obliged to vote the party line, right? So one might assume that no ALP member will cross the aisle to vote with the “bad guys” to force an election. Perhaps one of the three (doomed) Independents might desire another term in office and cross over? It one of your Independents were to do so it seems entirely likely that he or she may be the only Independent to survive.

    A couple good articles on WUWT today about the OZ carbon tax. The lamentations of the Aussies are painful to read. Y’all seem like such a good folk. You don’t deserve this. Here in the US we deserve whatever we get. Our jug eared idiot looked us square in the face and told us his intentions…and enough mouth breathers elected him anyway. But y’all were lied to in the worst way. Good for Julia that most of you are unarmed!

    As to why not send all ALP members bar Juliar home… well, that would make the subversion of parliament a bit too obvious. And there’s always the chance that a Labor member could view an issue important enough to throw his career away over, and cross the floor. It has happened, once or twice. Also, Lower-House MPs function much as do your Congressmen; that is, they are a point of contact for their constituents to raise issues. I’ve done so myself with my own local member (an old-school Labor man) and actually found him pretty approachable.

    About the only thing that will save Labor now, long-term, is another split. There are righteous Labor members out there all right, who up till now out of loyalty to the party have kept their silence. But right now, quite a few of them must be wondering if their real loyalty is to a proven disloyal leader, or to the principles of social democracy which Labor has traditionally championed – Oz

  24. Dr. Dave says:


    We get defections all the time. Most often they are Republican defections, but once in a while we see Democrats who can’t bear the corruption. In the big ObamaCare vote I believe Nancy Pelosi had a lottery for which Freshman Dems would be allowed to vote “no” (after she was assured her 218+ votes for passage). They KNEW it was enormously unpopular. Interestingly, every single Democrat voted out of office in 2010 voted “yes” on Obamacare…and these dolts still don’t get it.

    Our Democrat Party has morphed into a nearly pure socialist party. The Republicans are only just now rediscovering their germinal tissue. Boehner just this weekend told Obama to go pound sand over the debt ceiling and new taxes. The Democrats are having a hissy fit. The “good guys” are making some headway on fiscal issues but all the while Obama’s EPA is crushing us with de facto cap & trade by executive regulatory fiat. It will cost consumers and it will cost jobs. Next year Obama is going down…

  25. izen says:

    @- Dr. Dave says:
    July 11, 2011 at 2:27 pm
    “… I still have a couple questions.
    1. In the aforementioned Monckton graphs what exactly did you find to be factually incorrect?”

    Just to pick a few ‘highlights'(!)
    Page 11 – The red line of solar activity bears no relation to any source of solar activity or TSI in the research literature. Compare it with the various other measurements and reconstructions of solar activity available –

    Note how these show solar activity falling (slightly) since ~1975

    Page 12 – All three graphs are using unsourced data, the first of the last 30 years of ‘lower troposphere’ dosn’t resemble ANY data source with its large fall in temperatures since 2006.
    The second on the left of the temperature since 400BC is also unsourced and divergent from any other reconstruction of past climate. Note that the Vikings are shown arriving in Greenland around 900AD and then apparently enjoy warmer temperatures during the next 300 years.
    This is at odds with the greenland ice-core data and every other reconstruction of NH temperatures I have seen.
    Then there is the graph on the right…
    Unsourced data, no vertical scale and a resolution that completely removes any possiblilty of assesing the relative size of Minoan, Roman, or medieval warm periods. The garish ‘pink portcullis identifies it as a Monckton product…

    As you may be aware there is still a good deal of controversy over the actual magnitude, and global extent and timing of these various putative warm events. The stability od sea level over the last ~6000 years until the last century seems to refute any similar global warming events in the past – at least since the A1 melt just before the Holocene maximum.

    Page 14 – The implication I suppose that is the closing of many ‘cold’ stations in Russia when the USSR fell resulted in a warming artifact in the surface temperature record.
    Nonsense of course, quite apart from the fact that there are well established statistical methods for compensating for station changes and the reports are of anomalies not absolute temperature so that the coldness or warmness of the stations is irrelevent – there is the ‘little’ matter that every othe independent means of temperature measurement shows the same warming pattern – satellite data, sea surface data, sea level data ice extent data glacier mass balance data, Ocean heat content data etc – the implied error in the temperature record is only ‘credible’ if you also ignore all the other sources and indicators of surface temperature.

    Page 15 – This graph puports to show that it was warmer in 1988 during Hansens first testimony than during 2008 during his ‘anniversery’ testimony.
    But it is using an OLD version of the UAH satellite mid-tropospheric data. The Spencer and Christy UAH data has been the least reliable, and most often corrected of the data sets of surface temperature. It was only a few years ago that other researchers pointed out that for many ye\ars they had been subtracting a drift correction term that they should have been adding…
    If you look at the more recent UAH data, while 1988 was an El Nino and 2008 a La Nina which distorts things somewhat it is still clear which year was the warmest.

    I could go on, but J Abraham has done a very comprehensive ‘Fisking’ of Monckton, and his graphs. Monckton’s reply is as usual highly legalistic, but totaly unresponsive as to the scientific errors that Abraham’s exposes.

    There is an intersting contrast between the two men.
    Lord Monckton is an engaging and amusing speaker who keeps your interest and is persuasive in his oratory.
    I sat through the full J Abraham’s analysis, it runs to 93+ minutes and seems MUCH longer. You have to have sympathy for his students, this is a proffessor who clearly values attention to detail and combines it with a monotonous, uninflected delivery – a sure-fire cure for insominia.
    But then Monckton is preaching to the converted, all he has to do to earn his fee is fuel the confirmation bias of his audience – he is not trying to engage the scientific case.
    J Abraham by contrast is teaching and researching in the field and is not out to please his audience or feed them misinformation that conforms to their prejudices, he has to be accurate, and the lack of that in Monckton’s presentations clearly annoyed the hell out of him!

    2. If Ruton had presented graphs by Mann, Hansen or…Al Gore, would this esteemed aeronautical engineer have earned your respect?

    Not from Gore, but if he had used data from Mann or Hansen it might have made his presentation a little less partial. He does use ‘Hansen’ data on page 28, the NOAA data on drought, but even that is presented misleadingly to imply there is no significant drought problem in the USA. The problem is regional or course, not across all 48 states so the total average dry/wet ration shows a small change, but Texas is suffering…

    My objection is not a reverse argument from authority, or an ad hominem, The graphs used by Rutgan from Monckton have been refuted many times and the deceptions they embody exposed. The dissapointing thing about the Rutgan presentation was that it starts by warning of the bias and errors that both sides bring to the issue and claims to be a neutral, unbiased look at the data by someone who claims to have special skills in dealing with complex data.
    And then he uses perhaps the most suspect data source there is – MOnckton makes even Gore look like a pillar of understated rectitude and accuracy!

    You could go on indeed… and Monckton can, and does, go on (and on, and on, and on) in his response to the specific issues Abrahams raised; I won’t punish you by demanding you read it all. I agree with you that the regal herald on his graphs is pompous and distracting – I’d say that is a legitimate ad hom. And yes, he could be more clear in some citations. But it still doesn’t make the actual information incorrect – Oz

  26. Kitler says:

    Dr Dave we may end up with a false flag incident that allows Obama to be el Presidente for life and suspend all elections. Worked for Hitler.

  27. Dr. Dave says:


    If you contact Monckton he’ll send you all his source data. Ventilation engineer, Assistant Professor Abrahams from a no-name school in Minnesota did a lousy smear job on Lord Monckton. It has been picked apart not only by Monckton but by many others.

    Actually, Lord Monckton is very good about responding to emails. I suggest you forward him your concerns and see how he responds. Shucks…I might even do it for you.

  28. fenbeagle says:

    This is a very interesting thread. I loved the Andrew Bolt video Oz. And the Wong and Gillard video Kitler. I am interested in the Rutan presentation graphs izen, so will check out your specific critisism’s. Not least because I’d like to make use of some of them myself.
    On the issue of Monktons bright pink portcullis logo, I’ve always regarded them as a spoof myself. (Not pompous at all) The colours seem to have be very carefully chosen for that purpose……..(But then again I could be wrong.) If there’s room for doubt, it might be better to drop them.
    …..Hope things get better in Greece Meltemian, I’m following events as best I can, but it’s depressing. Particularly as I’ve always loved visiting Greece so much.

    The Royal Society’s crest is supported by two beagles rampant… perhaps the Viscount of Brenchley could use a bit of work on his? Oz 😉

  29. fenbeagle says:

    Your criticisms do not seem to be referring to graphs used in Ruton’s presentation?

  30. Ozboy says:

    Utterly OT but for your viewing pleasure… this is why I live at the southern extremity of my country, not the northern one:

    Please do not lean over the railing 😈

  31. izen says:

    I am a little surprised, and rather depressed that some here seem to take Lord Monckton seriously and treat him as a source of information.
    Like Gore he is a political animal, like Gore he cherry-picks his information to promote a particular point of view.

    I am referring to the .pdf file of graphs etc that Ozboy linked to for the Rutan presentation, I know not all the graphs originate with Monckton, I think some come from SEPP or the Heartland Institute – sources with a well known bias!

    Take the graph on page 14 with the page title –
    ‘Surface Temperature Measurement
    Number of surface thermometer stations and global temperature vs. date (1950 to 1999)’

    It shows a black line of operating weather stations with a big drop in 89/90 attributed to the collapse of the USSR and the closure of ‘cold’ stations.
    In fact many other countries closed stations at the end of the 80s and start of the 90s because over a decade of satellite measurements had confirmed that a good measure of global surface temperature as a climate metric could be obtained from around 100 well spaced weather stations. Using more gives little improvement in error range or variance. More are still used, weather stations have a role in measuring local weather as well as contributing to a global metric.
    But the reduction in stations did NOT influence the global measurement, the surface temperature curve is the same if you use ONLY the stations that have been functional from the 1950 to the 1999.

    Then there is the surface temperature indicated by the gray bar chart which shows a big step-jump around 89/90. This step-change supports the implication that the big fall in surface stations at the time is correlated with a big temperature rise.

    But look at all the other graphs in the same presentation that include a measurement of global temperature covering the same period ie pages 11, 12, 21 etc, NONE of them show the same pattern of a sudden step-change in temperature of over 1 degC in 1990.

    There is a contradiction between the surface temperature shown in the graph on page 14 and the surface temperature over a similar period shown on every other graph in the presentation. This is a problem with much of the information presented, it is not consistent and has mutual contradictions.

    It shows all the evidence of being cherry-picked to promote a view, not accurately impart information.

    The United States Congress took Monckton very seriously indeed. As did the Iron Lady, who did not suffer fools. But I guess that, too, is argumentum ad vericundiam (sigh). Though somehow, I really can’t visualize Al Gore designing polydrafters and the Eternity Puzzle, can you?

    I think we’re getting a little sidetracked by Monckton anyway; provided he lists his sources, he’s irrelevant to this debate – you can take the raw data and re-draw the graphs yourself, if you prefer – Oz

  32. fenbeagle says:

    The page numbers you keep referring me to do not match up to the graphs you are discussing. If we are talking about Rutons presentation?….(The version I am using was Adobe format) Surface temperatures start at page 52

  33. izen says:

    @- Ozboy
    “The United States Congress took Monckton very seriously indeed. As did the Iron Lady, who did not suffer fools.”

    Maggie employed him briefly as a press advisor – his only qualification is in journalism and Mrs T was much better qualified in science than him. Perhaps that is why she recognised the dangers of AGW and he didn’t.
    As for the US congress… well what they take seriously can often be a load of nonsense as with the infamous Wegman report, that turned out to suffer far more from the problems of bad statistics and closed group-think than the papers it was attacking. –

    I agree that Monckton is a side issue in this however, it was just that expecting better from Rutan, finding he was using the same highly suspect presentational material as the loony lord destroyed his credibility.
    Just as I think a person quoting Al Gore material instead of the original research will lack credibility. It is not the actions of someone with substance, but is an expression of ‘style’.

    The enternity puzzle is nice, but rather trivial from the geometric-topological POV. Rather more interesting are Penrose tiles with much more implications for topology and mathmatical decidability/computerbility issues. –

    Although I have a strong difference of opinion with Penrose who is a unregenerate Platonist with all the mystical dualism that implies.

    Back to Branson; there is a long tradition of charasmatic businessmen who create companies to market innovative ideas, Sugar, Sinclair, Dyson are UK examples, they are often rather flaky on the business front, and the engineering is often oversold, or not quite developed enough at the time…
    But they do provide the entry for new technology to initially penertrate the market.

    They are part of the ecology of capitalism, the way the status quo is challenged and innovation introduced against the inertia of existing stability.

    Just be carefull to avoid buying their products… wait until an established enterprise incorperates the technology in more reliable form!

  34. izen says:

    @- fenbeagle

    I downloaded an Adobe pdf file from this link –

    Which gave me a 33 page presentation mainly of graphs from SEPP/Heartland/Monckton sources.
    As Ozboy indicates it would be an indication of substance rather than style to have graphed the original data rather than utilize these images with their well known problems.

  35. fenbeagle says:

    hi Izen
    That’s a different presentation to the one I’m looking at from above, which is 98 pages…

  36. izen says:

    @- fenbeagle
    Well that makes more sense than just the graphs, and at least he has dropped the more egregious Monckton nonsense.

    I even agree with some of the adaption/constraint argumentshe makes.

    But there are still some awfull basic errors in physics on the CO2 level issue and some remaining problems with data selection. For instance that silly graph trying to equate the closure of ‘cold’ USSR weather stations with a 1 degree C jump in global temperatures in 1990 is still there –
    page 52.

    And he gets bogged down in the red herring of paleoclimate and the Hockey stick faux controversy.

    More later if anyone wants further analysis! (-grin-)

  37. fenbeagle says:

    I’ll have as much as you’ve time to give Izen. Because it’s better to hear the arguments hear, than it is, for me to use material myself, in some other, more memorable visual way (perhaps), and then be torn to shreds because it can be proved to be incorrect. (Although I can’t help noticing that there are divided opinions on some of the data, by people more qualified to judge than me.)

  38. izen says:

    @- fenbeagle

    I am quite flattered you consider that my analysis is of some use!
    Despite my non-neutral stance on the issue. Although I am not quite as polarized as the fundimetalists at each end of it seem to assume, or force people to be.

    I have regained SOME respect for Rutan seeing the full case he makes and the text around the graphs. He sets up 5 claims that the CAGW call to action makes and attempts to examine them all.
    The focus on CATASTROPHIC AGW is a bit of a agenda shift from the science towards the political. How catstrophic any climate change may be has less to do with its magnitude, and more to do with its impact on agricultural systems and the adaptability or flexibility of modern civilisations.

    But here are the 5 claims –
    1.Recent human burning of fossil fuels suddenly and dangerously increased CO2 beyond previous levels.
    2.Human CO2 emissions causes greenhouse warming.
    3.Dangerous, sudden global warming occurred the last 50 years.
    4.The current Temperature is too Hot & further warming is Bad.
    5.It is more difficult to adapt to climate changes than to attempt to control them.

    My answers –
    1- Yes, this is as certain as most scientific knowledge, I’d put it as slightly less certain than the heliocentric solar system and slightly more certain than evolution by natural selection…
    2- Yes, with 95% certainty (probably more-grin-)
    3- No, ‘sudden and dangerous’ are value judgments that depend on context. Without defining the context such a claim is ungrounded rhetoric.
    4- Indeterminate at present, again the context is biological and societal responses, there are some indications of climate exacerbated problems but I don’t think there are unequivocal indications; either way.
    5- Unknown and probably unknowable. Human societies have never attempted to control climate change, and our present efforts don’t look too good. History shows societies that have failed catastrophically when faced with past climate changes so that option certainly isn’t the ‘easy’ one.

    Rutan responds to claim 1.-Recent human burning of fossil fuels suddenly and dangerously increased CO2 beyond previous levels.
    – with pages 12 and 13 presenting CO2 as a insignificantly small percentage of the atmosphere, and human contributions a very small fraction of that. I am afraid this is either ignorant or deliberately misleading. It would be like claiming that because Uranium is such a small percentage of the minerals in the environment its effects on human health can be ignored; and as the human production of Uranium is a small fraction of the total natural sources human sourced Uranium is doubly insignificant. He describes the human contribution in various ways, but manages to avoid the bottom line. Atmospheric CO2 has risen by over 30% since measurements began in the 50s and the source of that rise is human activity. The isotopic ratios allow no other explanation, the rise is certain and the ‘fingerprint’ of its fossil fuel origin is in the C12/C14 ratios.
    If that WAS a 30% rise of something of which there is a vanishingly small amount with minimal effect then there would be no concern, but while his figures for percentage by volume may be right, the crucial point is how much EFFECT does that amount of CO2 have on the natural warming of the atmosphere.
    That was established at least a century ago and refined since. CO2 has up to 20% of the effect dominated by the water vapour. It varies because once adiabatic cooling drops the air temperature below freezing the water vapour no longer plays a role.

    Graphics and arguments that point at the very very small volume/percentage of CO2 compared with the toal atmosphere are looking at the wrong thing. What matters in the context of climate is the effect the substance has on the system. Because of its absorption/emission characteristics CO2 has thousands of times more effect on the energy balance at the surface than Oxygen despite there being a thousand times more Oxygen tha CO2.

    Page 14 carries a graph that has become a signal that here is someone who is trying to mislead. The graph is old, obsolete and only now used by various ‘skeptics’. Trying to imply that present CO2 is insignificant because there was more in the past – without the context of increasing solar output and tectonic changes is not really honest.

    Relax, I’m not going to examine all 90+ pages in this detail… well not tonight!

    Pages 18-22 he drags out Beck and Kouwenberg to throw doubt on the past CO2 record. Beck claims past historical measurement of CO2 indicate much higher levels during the recent past. But the known error range of these measurement easily encompasses the levels derived from ice-cores and other proxy indicators, and there is no known or credible natural process that can alter atmospheric CO2 by more than the 5ppm seen with the seasonal changes. At least not without biological effects FAR greater than seasonal changes. The sort of high levels, and rapid drops implied by Becks data would be hard to achieve with multiple yellowstone super-volcanic eruptions, or ocean absorption that would render the seawater acidic to a fatal degree for all calcium shelled organisms. Kouwenberg on pine needle stomata claims to have allowed for the fact that the stomata are also affected by temperature, rainfall, humidity, wind and various other factors, but shows results where the supposed CO2 variations are well outside the range of any credible natural process but do coincide with known climate changes.

    Despite all this unwarranted and frequently unsupportable equivocation Rutan does eventually have the honesty to admit that YES, Recent human burning of fossil fuels suddenly increased CO2 beyond previous levels in the human era. It would seem that although he presents claims that CO2 has varied by over 100ppm in recent history, or during the last few thousand years he knows its nonsense.
    But he than qualifies it to say that he dosn’t think it is a dangerous increase, because it is less that is a greater danger, the biosphere has survived much higher levels.

    I disagree, here’s why.
    The magnitude of the amount of extra CO2 we are adding to the atmosphere is geologically significant, and at a rate far exceeding any natural rate. The zombie claim is still sometimes heard that volcanoes release more CO2 than human activity.
    This would only be true if there was a yellowstone super-volcanic eruption every month for the fifty years of CO2 measurement. THATS the sort of scale of impact we are having on the geochemical environment. WE have had the same sort of maga-impact on the geochemical sulfur cycle as well as that element has been released from sequestered fossil sources. However that doesn’t seem to have any significant effects on the thermodynamics of the climate or the biosphere.
    so far.

    But with a complex system like the climate, and the even more complex biological ecology that is constrained by it I am reminded of the key insight – you can never change just ONE thing. And as we are changing one thing – CO2 – by an amount that far exceeds most natural processes and we know and can measure its role in the thermodynamics of the climate it is inevitably dangerous. The possibility of NO change is vanishingly small. The probability of more extreme or chaotic changes than can be easily foreseen is not negligible.

    Pizza now, maybe claim 2 later……

    Actually Izen, you’re raising some well-rehearsed arguments here, to which (as I’m sure you’re aware) there are equally well-rehearsed replies. Clearly you’ve spent a fair bit of time on this, so it would be most unfair of me to pepper your text with interjections. I’ll leave it stand for a couple of days (or until the Oz household shakes off this virus anyway). If anyone feels like responding to Izen’s points in the meantime, away you go – Oz

  39. fenbeagle says:

    You more than deserve that Pizza Izan

    After that lot, sure; if his choice of menu were any different, that is. I’d say Izen has taken Branson’s example to heart (see link) – Oz

  40. fenbeagle says:

    I mean Izen 🙂

  41. fenbeagle says:

    Izen…I have heard this compared to a bath. Where the water filling the bath is in ‘Balance’ and is flowing away (down the plug hole presumably) as fast as it is refilling naturally. But man is adding ‘extra’ CO2 (all be it, in small amounts compared to natures output) And so, no matter how small the amounts might be, that are being added, it will eventually cause the bath to overflow.
    ……This is probably a bad, although nicely visual AL egory?
    First off, it seems to me, that man is as entitled to use the bath tub as any other ‘natural’ CO2 producer. Mans extra contribution is very small compared to the bath volume anyway, and the concerns are only about ‘build up’. It may well be that man has caused that recently, but any increase in CO2 would presumably have had the same effect, whether from man or something else. So although a ‘balance’ may exist, it’s a ‘balance’ that must be constantly readjusting because ‘natural’ CO2 can presumably increase, if only by increased volcano activity. If it doesn’t readjust itself naturally, how was the ‘balance’ achieved in the first place? If the readjustment process is what is bothering us, and should be avoided, then why are we specifically looking at mans contribution to be reduced, and not looking at reducing natures contribution, instead?
    On the subject of CO2 itself. The argument is about ‘build up’ in the upper atmosphere. An argument that could equally be applied to anything (build up of water for example, somewhere that it would be better not to have it). Would you agree then, that it would be wrong to simply refer to CO2 as ‘harmful’……(To the young mind, for instance.) Without a full explanation of what is actually meant? Particularly in view of how important CO2 is to plant life, and ultimately us? And without explaining how an increase of CO2 would also be beneficial.

  42. izen says:

    @- fenbeagle says:

    The filling bath analogy is pretty good for CO2, perhaps better is the pond with water foutain. A pump in the pond sprays a small fountain of water, that water spray is the atmospheric CO2 derived from, and returning to the larger ‘pond’ of carbon tied up in plants, animals and dissolved in the ocean.

    Very slow geological processes remove carbon from the ‘pond’ by sedimentation. (=pond leaks?)
    Very slow geological processes add carbon to the ‘fountain’ by volcanic processes. (=rain?!)

    While those processes can alter and get out of balance as in the PETM, for most of the Earths history they have been in rough equalibrium. When there is a big increase in CO2, or fall the levels do re-equilbriate over thousand-year timescales.

    Human fossil fuel burning is like adding an extra fountain using an outside source of water. The extra fountain adds to the total in the pond as well as increasing the size of the fountain. And it is FAR larger than any common natural process that adds carbon to the carbon cycle.

    “On the subject of CO2 itself. The argument is about ‘build up’ in the upper atmosphere. An argument that could equally be applied to anything (build up of water for example, somewhere that it would be better not to have it). Would you agree then, that it would be wrong to simply refer to CO2 as ‘harmful’……(To the young mind, for instance.) Without a full explanation of what is actually meant? Particularly in view of how important CO2 is to plant life, and ultimately us? And without explaining how an increase of CO2 would also be beneficial.”

    That applies to almost everything,excess water, oxygen, food etc are all ‘harmful’ when certain levels are exceeded. There really isn’t much beneficial about an increase in CO2, the argument that it would increase crop yeilds is largely spurious, CO2 is not the limiting factor in plant growth, it is usually rainfall and nitrogen. Only in a controlled enviroment where all other requirements are fully met will a CO2 increase have any significant effect.
    Many crop plants are adapted to low CO2 levels (C4 types) so an increase would just favour the weeds….

    Got distracted from claim 2 by the News International meltdown – all those billions of the share price and major shareholders in the US sueing them for bad corperate governance… delicious!!! Does everyone want a thread on that? The story seems to be snowballing. I think it’s good that Murdoch’s papers and TV empire, while politically biased, thereby give at least some balance to a MSM that is otherwise uniformly biased the other way. Apart from that, Rupert’s just another crony capitalist – and always has been. He’s as much a part of the problem as the Beeb, ABC and the rest of them – Oz

  43. fenbeagle says:

    So would you call water harmful, as a flat statement, without qualification?

  44. izen says:

    @-fenbeagle says:
    July 13, 2011 at 10:45 pm
    “So would you call water harmful, as a flat statement, without qualification?”

    No, ANY value judgement, whether harmful, beneficial or neutral is meaningless without the context.
    Water is harmful if inhaled, or consumed beyond the ability of the kidneys to regulate osmotic balance.

  45. fenbeagle says:

    Thanks…..Just checking 🙂

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  47. izen says:

    Rutan, style and substance, his response to claim 2… for anyone still interested!

    2.Human CO2 emissions causes greenhouse warming.

    Rutans eventual response is –
    “Emissions caused greenhouse warming?Not likely,and not supported by data.
    There is no evidence that carbon dioxide emissions are the main cause of the recent global warming.
    Our small warming/cooling cycles are mainly caused by chaotic formation of clouds/precipitation and solar input variation, not by CO2greenhouse effects.”

    This conclusion is preceded by ~20 pages of substance… none of which actually addresses the claim. There is a problem here with the STYLE of argument Rutan is using.

    page27 – recent warming is varying in rate but CO2 is rising smoothly. Arctic(?) temperatures correlate best with an unspecified and anomalous graph of solar activity.
    Page28 – Past warming before CO2 rise
    page29 – Previous warming caused CO2 rise.
    page30 – CO2 absorption is saturated.
    page31-35 – Computer models are wrong and Hansen is a propagandist?
    page36 – There is no ‘tropospheric hot spot’.
    page37-44 – More on why computer models are wrong and then a digression into peak oil… ?!
    page45 – water vapour dominates and its all to chaotic…
    page46 – CO2 is to small an effect to matter.

    At least Rutan does not deny that there is a greenhouse effect… the aknowledged dominance of water vapour at least shows he has not ‘gone over to the dark side’ and started spouting the ‘Gerlich’ type nonsense about the absence of a warming effect from having an atmosphere that interacts with the thermal energy radiated from the surface.

    But the style of this response is polemical and misleading, not a simple engineers’ approach to data.
    Faced with the claim –

    2.Human CO2 emissions causes greenhouse warming.

    The answer has to be YES if CO2 causes ‘greenhouse’ warming.
    The basics of how an atmosphere slows surface cooling so that a thermal gradient is established between heat source (surface) and heat sink (space) was discovered around a century ago. Fourier has a good claim to be a primary source. Inevitably there are lots of complications and details, but inescapable thermodynamics has the atmosphere responsible for the Earth surface being about 30degC warmer than if there was no insulating atmosphere.
    Other measurements, first rough but refined by military research and computational techniques developed in cosmology showed that water vapour/clouds accounted for up to 90% of the effect, CO2 around 10%. Humidity, clouds, altitude and pressure makes this ratio variable, but thats at least a rough average.

    So of the 30degC warming 10% or 3degC is the result of the CO2 content.
    At present 30% of that CO2 content is the result of human activity especialy burning fossil fuels. So around 1degC is down to human emissions.

    That is the very simple back-of-an-envelope version, if you want the fine detail there are few better explanations that the science of doom series on CO2 – an insignificant trace gas –

    Rutan never states the version of how the ‘greenhouse’ effect works that is the standard form taught in undergraduate textbooks and generally accepted by the scientific community for the last century. If you are going to refute, or reject a claimbased on that, then you have to at least summerise the physical basis of that claim before presenting the evidence you think shows it to be wrong. Otherwise there is no way of connecting the evidence with the physics.

    And this is the problem with the 20 pages of Rutan’s ‘evidence’ before he rejects the claim that human CO2 emissions cause greenhouse warming. Unless you can show HOW the evidence you present refutes the physics from which that claim derives its just polemical handwaving… what the heck has peak oil (which happened in 2007) got to do with the radiative interactions behind the greenhouse effect?

    The one time he does present a counterclaim that engages with the physics underlying the issue is page30 with the – ‘CO2 absorption is saturated it can have no further significant effect.’
    If you want to know why this is baloney you have to get into the detail… but consider that water vapour as far more predominant than CO2 is even MORE saturated, yet variations in water vapour still cause temperature changes. Humidity levels at night affect the rate of cooling DESPITE the fact that water vapour is ‘saturated’ in its absorption at very low levels if CO2 is. And Venus is rather poor evidence that increasing CO2 levels are insignificant in their effect beyond a few hundred ppm.

    It is not just that the substance of the Rutan response here is largely peripheral to the claim, it is that much of it consists of familiar rhetoric that has been used often, and its irrelevance exposed almost as often. The tropospheric hot-spot is not a fingerprint of AGW, it is a fingerprint of ANY warming, but its magnitude is uncertain and our ability to measure it, especially any decadal trend in it is extremely limited. Presenting those observational inadequacies and computational uncertainties as clear refutation of warming is dubious, to present it as refutation of a specific cause of warming is misleading at best.

    I take issue with some of the substance of Rutan’s evidence that he presents on claim 2, but more fundamentally I dislike his style. He fails to engage with the claim on the scientific level or structure his argument in a rational way that exhibits any grasp of WHAT the claim is and how it is related to the long held, well established, extensively measured and credibly verified basic physics of the GHG effect.

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